After all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth over Town’s stuttering start to the season, we enter the infernal international break with one fewer point than could have been reasonably predicted (and out of the League Cup, as per usual) following a very good draw at a difficult venue. Ever so slightly below par.
It is not unusual for people to react, sometimes hysterically, to disappointment and defeat in the moment and the aftermath. Optimism dissipates quickly as context is temporarily overlooked or ignored completely; it is an entirely natural emotion, even if expressed with a lack of grace or gratitude.
A forgettable encounter at Goodison Park saw Town stifle their hosts all over the pitch and but for a single error by the raw but promising Diakhaby, the stranglehold they had over an admittedly depleted Everton would have garnered a first win.
Thoroughly disciplined, the visitors rarely conceded space, overcame a ludicrously early booking for Billing (made even more vexatious by the referee’s leniency towards Davies in particular) and worked hard with and without the ball to revive the spirit which has carried us this far.
Key players stepped up. Mooy, looking far more comfortable in a deeper role, provided the midfield anchor preventing Everton playing between the lines and he was supported by a mature performance by Billing which indicated he is coming of age. Despite the aforementioned early booking, the Dane glided through the game, scored his first top league goal and provided most of the, too rare, progressive impetus.
At wing back, Van La Parra put in a fine display. Error free, his role of getting the team up the pitch was carried out with relish. His faults have been debated long and hard, and remain relevant, but he continues to be a vital part of a team which needs breathing space.
Up front, Mounié‘s hold up play and aerial challenges were beyond reproach – despite Town’s underwhelming form, he looks to have improved and his further development will be interesting to see.
Not unsurprisingly, the home team saw most of the ball in a tepid opening twenty minutes but were restricted to two long range, off target shots. Tosun’s effort caused fleeting concern as it flew over the bar but Lössl comfortably allowed Zouma’s drive to pass harmlessly wide.
By frustrating the home team and fans, not allowing them to gain any sort of rhythm, either in play or song, Town built the foundation to attack with more purpose and after just a few minutes of a more expansive approach, they were in front.
Löwe, solid at left wing back, swung in a dangerous near post corner which was inadvertently flicked on by Calvert-Lewin, straight on to the immaculately coiffured head of Phil Billing who gave Pickford no chance.
Sadly, the euphoria was extremely short lived. From the kick off, the ball found it’s way down Town’s right channel and a weak, ill advised challenge by Diakhaby on Digne allowed the left full back time and space to cross. The French international seized on the rare commodity and swung in an excellent cross which Calvert-Lewin converted following a well timed run in front of the exposed defence. Lössl got a hand to it and may feel that it wasn’t as strong as it should have been, but it was a powerful, well placed header.
The goals enlivened a poor spectacle but failed to ignite the game which rarely rose above tedium thereafter, which is exactly what Town needed.
Everton’s pedestrian approach play and Town’s deliberate slowing of the pace at every opportunity eventually stirred the quiet home crowd in to whinging, which was music to the ears of a club in some need of a positive result. The visiting support was vocal throughout and appreciative of the destructive nature of the performance.
The final hour was a struggle between a home side failing to turn possession in to threat – only the introduction of Lookman for the injured but anonymous Walcott added anything resembling menace – and visitors comfortably adapting to the soft challenge. One decent ball in to the box by Lookman could have ruined the day, but it narrowly evaded Siggurson’s despairing back post lunge.
Otherwise, Town carried some threat at times with Mounié firing a decent effort straight at Pickford from distance and he was visibly annoyed with Van La Parra for trying to convert off his toes after he had skilfully worked a position from an aerial ball.
Durm replaced the dependable but non threatening Hadergjonaj for the last quarter of an hour and the German very nearly fed Mounié in the area following a good Town move down the right, only to be thwarted by a good interception.
If anything, Town looked the more likely to grab a winner on the break though this would be to over emphasise the actual threat they posed. As Wagner acknowledged later, the final third remains a problem with creativity at a premium but this game looked to be one where the team was getting back to basics and they succeeded in that limited but necessary ambition.
Throughout our short tenure at the top table, the balance between adventure and solidity remains the most difficult conundrum. Durm’s cameo hinted at one possible solution – if he can consign his injury problems to history, he looks accomplished and easily capable at this high level of providing the delivery we so often lack.
The game itself may have been a humdrum affair, but for the visiting support a return to the fundamental qualities needed for survival in an ever toughening division more than compensated. Perhaps, like Wagner, we can all leave the immediate past behind and see how he develops the team to meet the huge challenges ahead.